Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iacocca’s Ram

“Why would Dodge manufacture a car called Ram?” This is one of those odd-duck questions that came up recently on one of my discussion groups. (The same fellow also asked, “Why are black olives packed in cans and green olives come in jars?” and “Shampoo is available in many colors, why is the lather on your head always white?” It’s questions like this that keep psychiatrists in business.)

In this case, though, there’s a great brand story behind the question. And thank the Lord for Google.

According to the late Mike Sealy (among others), the Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicle Company (one of Daimler Chrysler’s forerunners) produced trucks since 1917. Dodge actually used a ram’s head hood ornament back in 1933 to characterize its trucks as rugged vehicles. The original hood ornament was designed by Avard Fairbanks, who was influenced by the Art Deco motifs popular during the 1920s and ‘30s.

The symbol was dropped in the 1950s.

The brand icon was resurrected for 1981 when Lee Iacocca (then ChryslerPresident and CEO) and Dodge's marketing team decided to name Dodge's trucks after the tough beast and brought back the old mascot when it re-designed the Series D pick-‘em-up trucks. Re-shaped again and again, Dodge Ram trucks have been named Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year twice. The second-generation Ram won the award in 1994. The third-generation Ram Heavy Duty won the 2003 award.

Now on the face of it, my disccusion-group colleague asked a silly question. But according to Fairbanks’s family, the story goes like this:

For two weeks father worked on all sorts of models from mythology creatures to various powerful animals. Finally, he called the designers and Mr. Chrysler in to see three models of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a ram. He proposed the charging one. They asked, “Why a ram?” Father responded, “It is sure-footed; it’s the King of the Trail; it won’t be challenged by anything.”

They nodded their heads. Then father, with a bit of corny humor, added, “And if you were on the trail and saw that ram charging down on you, what would you think? DODGE!” To which Walter Chrysler excitedly replied, “THAT’S IT! THE RAM GOES ON THE DODGE!”

It’s not Lee Iacocca’s ram at all – it’s Walter Chrysler’s. And it's a great brand story.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Stoneworth Subtle

“Below the radar” is one way to put it. But the principals of Stoneworth Financial here in Houston, Evan Betzer and Charles Harris, made a better point about a recent three-part project.

“We’re guides and servants for our customers,” Evan said. “We want them to be thrilled at the end of the transaction – and we’re not the heroes of the story. They are.”

The word you seek is “subtle.” After an era when Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) firms bathed in a triumphant public light (and some still do), Stoneworth Financial wants to maintain its quiet, graceful presence in the regional marketplace. For its five-year anniversary, the principals asked me for three things.

First, re-design the Stoneworth horse from its original, graphically complex Chinese watercolor style to an image that’s still classy, but easier to understand and reproduce on letterhead and business cards.

Second, help clarify and sharpen the firm’s story in terms of copy – that is, a more understandable sales proposition that emphasizes its approach to customer relationships.

Third, modify the look of the company’s website for additional clarity – a new look without departing from its primary guideline: Stoneworth is a financial firm and wants to preserve that dignity.

Subtlety is harder than stridency. Fortunately, I had the design help of Kay Krenek and the illustration capabilities of Mike Dean…and they deserve the credit for staying faithful to our clients’ direction. I’m particularly fond of the green-and-silver look…we keep calling the verdant color greenback. (Evan would like to find another word.)

As for the writing – well, click through to the site and judge for yourself.

There’s a story behind “The Stoneworth Horse,” by the way. You can read it for yourself on the new website – it’s intimately connected to the reason Evan and Charles feel that subtlety is the better part of success. My thanks to them, such excellent clients.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ben Silver

After 20 years, I owe Sue and Bob Prenner an apology. In 1985, they opened a 2,000-square-foot shop in Charleston, SC, a few years after they took over the company named after its founder and Sue’s father, Ben Silver.

Signalwriter talks from time to time about long-lasting brands, Ben Silver is a fine example, since the company itself has been around since well before the Kennedy presidency and it’s still going strong, with stores in Charleston and London.

What caught my eye, back in 1986 or so, was Ben Silver’s collection of British striped ties (called repp ties) – the classic “old school” ties that are associated with English public schools and units of the UK’s armed services.

There are specific striping patterns tied to famous regiments of the British Army – like the red tie with white stripes above left, for the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, the 33rd/76th Foot as it was then, before the Brits consolidated its regiments.

At the time, alongside my duties as Creative Director at The Quest Business Agency, I was also writing articles for Sperry Defense System’s house magazine: about antique militaria, the history of warfare and weapon systems. I stumbled across an early Ben Silver catalog with photographs of British school and regimental ties and thought up a piece about British Army regiments that served in America during the Revolution, using photos of their regimental ties as the illustrations.

(I also liked the neckwear: I was quite the preppie in those days and the repp patterns were perfect for my mixed creative/business persona. I could look good and have a military history lesson about the tie at the same time.)

I wrote to the Ben Silver company asking for the loan of half a dozen of the ties I could then forward to Sperry to photograph for the article. I asked for the Wellington, the Royal Artillery, the Buffs and the Hampshire Regiment. The ties themselves would be the centerpiece of the article, and I’d make certain that Ben Silver got credit in the article. The company was glad to send me a package containing the ties.

The article was written but never published. Sperry turned into Unisys; my contact moved to another job in the company; the magazine died a quiet death. Ben Silver never got its credit.

Yesterday while Barbara was cleaning out the back room, I unearthed the original Ben Silver catalog. How old is it? Back in the mid-‘80s, The Duke of Wellington’s regimental tie was $28. Today, on the Silver website, the price is $80.

Great ties. Long-lasting brand. Sue and Bob, I apologize for not delivering on my promise. I still have the ties. (Wincing.) Do you want them back?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Continuing Mirus

Why would I show you a new ad for Mirus, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company specializing in exception-based restaurant management? I posted about Mirus more than a year ago – where’s the news?

The news is, Mirus is upholding a tenet of advertising that is “mainly honored in the breach.” (Shakespeare first said this, so let’s pay homage.) That tenet is Continue the Campaign.

Far too many companies change their advertising concept like people use Kleenex: use it once and throw it away. That’s not just a waste of money, it undercuts the effort to build brand equity, a form of investment that is understood by a lot of companies (large and small) but completely ignored by others (large and small).

For an active, imaginative firm like Mirus, it’s eminently bankable. It has kept its marketing communications concept stable, even as its messages change to address different elements of its customers’ and prospects’ needs. In this new ad, the message is about a major benefit of its web-delivered exception-based restaurant management solution: instant visibility of critical operating information. Restaurant operators are, generally, experienced professionals. They can solve a problem once they know what the problem is. The trick is to find out – quickly – what’s going wrong that should be going right.

By addressing one issue at a time, Mirus is practicing what Alan Vera of The Quest Business Agency has called “platform-plank communications.” That is, build the communications structure one idea (or plank) at a time; let it settle into the minds of the prospects; then add another plank to the marcom structure.

Marilyn Muller and her team at
20/20 Exhibits get the design credit; I craft the messages.

But the real nod goes to Mirus president Dave Bennett and marketer Billie Light . They keep to the bold red-and-yellow graphic style and photographic approach that has characterized the company since it began actively communicating with its market 15 months ago. As this and other Mirus ads keep appearing in magazines targeted at the restaurant business, they are building an identifiable message platform one plank at a time. Adding power to the brand. Continuing the campaign.

“Kleenex” is a trademark of Kimberly-Clark Corporation, lest we forget. The ad above is © Mirus, 2007. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Soft Sell

Today’s guest blogger is Adam Halpern. He’s President of Soft Sell, the company he created to train non-sales, “customer-facing” employees to generate sales from every customer interaction. His recent trip to California is actually an adventure in reverse psychology, so I asked him to create a post about it…because everyone (especially a consultant) needs the occasional reminder about how to sell better. His story:

What do you get when you mix sumptuous wine and sarcastic sales people? This sounds like an opening line of a bad joke, but it’s how I spent the last 48 hours of my life: as a keynote speaker for a high-tech software sales conference in Sonoma, CA. The topic of the presentation was Behavioral Styles and Selling – what I like to call “Why do people think salespeople are obnoxious?”

My session was the last one of the day. I had the pleasure of following a riveting 1½ hour session on database modeling. My challenge was to engage an audience that knew I was the only thing standing between them and free food and alcohol.

I opened the presentation with a few thought provoking questions. Why do salespeople seem so irritating? Were they born that way? Is there a “how-to-be-an-annoying-salesman” school that produces people like this? And could their prospective customers have something to do with it?

These questions got their attention. In fact, I told them, a little bit of all these things are true and there is scientific data to back it up. Once you understand the psychological dynamics involved in a salesperson or an overbearing co-worker – or your slave-driver boss – they become less unbearable. And, who knows, you might even start to like them.

People have different preferences in music, automobiles and ice cream. They also have preferences when it comes to interacting with people. These biases are a normal part of defining who you are as a person. The same holds true for communication and behavior styles.

The four types of behavioral styles can be summarized with the acronym “DISC.” DISC assessments are a widely accepted psychology instrument used for quickly analyzing and describing behavioral styles. Let me summarize.

“Dominant,” or “D” behavioral-style individuals, are results-oriented. These people get in your face aggressively when selling. They thrive on solving problems and making quick buying decisions. These individuals are fast-paced and like to be in charge. They become impatient with people or situations that hinder them from accomplishing their goals. So they’re more task-oriented than people-oriented.

“Influence,” or “I” behavioral-style, individuals are frequently thought of as “people persons.” These salespeople talk your ears off until you buy. They’re enthusiastic and upbeat, enjoying the interaction with others in a humorous, lighthearted way. They appear to be the eternal optimists, seeing the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. They are quite persuasive about things they’re passionate about.

“Steadiness,” or “S” behavioral style, is also people-oriented – but at a much slower pace than the “I” style. “S” persons don’t like to be forced into making changes or quick decisions. They’re patient, loyal and calm, making them excellent listeners and peacekeepers when conflict breaks out. Their focus is on cooperation.

“Conscientiousness,” or “C” behavior, is quality-focused, slow-paced, methodical and task-oriented. “C” people focus on the details and are primarily concerned about doing things the “right” or “correct way.” They are analytical and frequently set higher standards for themselves than others.

When I do a seminar at a sales conference, 49% of my audiences are usually D style and 49% is I style. The other 2% are C or S types: they don’t realize they probably should not be in sales. This means most of the people I am presenting to either want me to hurry up and finish, or are ignoring me because they are thinking about the party later that night.

The key to winning over this audience mix is to keep it “edutaining.” Keep the jokes coming. Keep a fast pace. The nice thing about D and I types is that they are not shy. If you do a good job, they have no qualms about telling you so. Of course, the converse is also true.

The presentation was met with a loud round of applause. Selling ideas at a sales conference is no different than selling widgets. Interacting with different customers (and people inside your own company) in the style they like instead of the style you like is the key to making yourself easier to work with and therefore more successful.

People prefer to do business with people they like. The most effective salespeople adjust their communication style to match the behavioral styles of their prospects, customers and associates. The most obnoxious ones don’t.

The trick is staying mentally flexible and adapting accordingly. Learning how to interact more effectively will put you far ahead of the competition. Good luck and good selling!

My thanks to Adam and all the salespeople at the Sonoma conference.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Energy Tips

Just completed: a new booklet for Reliant Energy that coaches new homeowners how to save money on their electricity bills.

I participated in the project as copywriter for Active Imagination. The agency did a fine job of organizing, designing and producing the piece – especially within the context of Reliant Energy’s existing graphic standards.

What Active Imagination has created is a colorful, warm-hearted instruction booklet with dozens of energy-saving tips. Including a couple I didn’t know (or remember) myself, even after years of doing this kind of work for the “retail” part of the energy market.

I stocked up on compact fluorescent bulbs for the house because of information I discovered during the research phase. In the decade or so since I originally considered fluorescents for our home’s various reading lamps and work lights, I found out that fluorescents have become far more effective and a lot less expensive.

You’d think a company that’s in the business of selling electricity would shy away from telling people how to save it. You’d be wrong (or cynical). It’s part of Reliant Energy’s public mission to instruct its customers on ways to conserve energy.

Remember too that the user’s manual is one of our business’s basic building blocks.

Think about this concept two ways. First, every new system (including a house) has a learning curve that’s got to be climbed in order to achieve the system’s highest level of efficiency. Don’t doubt the “house as a system” approach: E-Star has been promoting it for years:

Understanding the interrelations and accommodating them requires effort from the design phase through all stages of construction. The net result is a home that performs better on many fronts: energy efficiency, comfort, durability, safety, and affordability.

Reliant Energy works closely with builders to deliver better-performing homes to the housing market. The wire-bound booklet Active Imagination has created for the company is clearly focused on helping readers climb the learning curve faster.

Second, Reliant Energy faces a competitive market – new homeowners can choose some other company to be their electricity provider. So anything that helps Reliant Energy’s prospects (say, people moving into a new home) become customers is what we’d call “a good thing.” Good for marketing and good for branding.

Eighteen months ago, I asked in this space, “When does an instruction manual or a user’s manual serve as a marketing tool? The right answer is…always.”

Thanks to Active Imagination and Reliant Energy for the chance to work on this small but attractive piece of “houseware.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

ÖYKÜ Hospitality

Let me tell you a little story.

There’s no hospitality like Turkish hospitality: something I’d read about, but discovered first-hand when I met with ÖYKÜ in Istanbul. In a city with more than 10 million friendly people, the visit to ÖYKÜ is a standout.

ÖYKÜ is one of Turkey’s leading independent advertising agencies. It joined Dialogue International in July, 2006 and has more than 50 people in two offices, Istanbul and Ankara, the nation’s capital. It’s a signficant addition to Dialogue International, which now stands at 24 advertising and marketing agencies.

It’s also a big reason I went to Istanbul. I wanted the chance to see one of Dialogue’s newest members with my own eyes. (Since I’m Chairman Emeritus of Dialogue, I guess it’s okay to drop by for a visit.)

I think I met most and talked with most of the Istanbul team – even had a chance to sit down around a conference room table with them.

Then a long lunch and more talk…about advertising, about the future of Dialogue, about the Turkish economy, about politics. Beyond any walk through a local bazaar, ÖYKÜ is an adventure in a dynamic marketplace.

For all this, I have to thank the agency’s president, Necati Özkan; the agency’s strategic planner, Renan Tavukçuoğlu; and Pelin Özkan, the managing director of publishing house Kapital Medya.

The new ÖYKÜ office here is in upscale Akmerkez, one of Istanbul’s modern shopping, office and residential complexes. Having recently pitched and won new clients like Kiddo, the Turkish childrens’ footwear store chain as well as the 35-year-old Laressa Furniture store chain, ÖYKÜ has also started its WOM division with projects for Danone (with Renan as its director); it’s already a powerhouse for Turkish infrastructure companies’ advertising and media relations.

More important, it’s an outstanding group of people, passionate advertising professionals in a dramatic city. ÖYKÜ is intimately involved with the whole Turkish market because of its client base, its advertising activities, and magazine and book publishing (through Kapital Medya). I could feel the vibrations of the economy in the ÖYKÜ office.

Read about what’s going on in Turkey in any decent newspaper or web news service: upcoming presidential and general elections mean potential instability in both the economic and political environment – in the short term. There’s the issue of EU membership as well.

I got a good sense of this from Necati. Not only the founder and president of ÖYKÜ, he started his career as a political consultant in 1983 during Turkey’s general elections, served as a campaign leader for the Turkish Socialdemocrat People’s Party and lectures about Communications at Maltepe University. He’s the author of books about Turkish political campaigns and about as interesting a lunch companion as I could ever expect.

It’s a particularly fascinating position from which to run an ad agency – especially because of the “bi-lateral” connections with other Dialogue agencies that have been walking the same political consultancy/advertising path.

Necati feels just as passionate about the potential of our 20-year-old network of independent advertising agencies: it has formally added ‘Dialogue International’ to the ÖYKÜ company name.

ÖYKÜ will host both Dialogue International’s Managers Meeting and Creative Forum in Istanbul in April, 2007. I’m glad to have seen for myself what’s on offer in Turkey.

Especially since the agency is dedicated to building stories about its clients’ brands. In English, öykü means “little stories.”

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Smoking Area

Barbara and I stopped for a moment outside a small bazaar in Istanbul to rest – and light up. As we puffed away, a well-dressed man just across the narrow street attracted our attention by asking the familiar question, “Are you American?”

He was standing outside a carpet shop. QED, we suspected he was starting the by-now-familiar procedure of getting us into the store, offering us apple tea and showing us…carpets. But politeness always counts, so I answered, “Yes – the last two American smokers.”

Instead, we got another question: “Do you know who smokes more than a Turk?”

Barbara and I looked at each other…we couldn’t think of an answer. So I called back to him, “I don’t know.”

He responded, “Two Turks!”

Three second later, all of us were laughing our heads off. Turks smoke like chimneys in Victorian London.

A couple of days later, we were in Athens. As we finished checking into the hotel, we paused to fish out our packs of Marlboros. Stratos, the on-duty desk clerk, then told us exactly the same thing with just one word changed.

“Do you know who smokes more than a Greek?”

This time, we knew the answer: “Two Greeks!” More laughter. We felt right at home.

This, then, is the story of Turkey and Greece. Two nations united by a common gag.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Eating Greek

We’d never have found the Stoa Attalos Restaurant in Monastiraki without the odd wanderings of Alan Hill of Milton Keynes, UK. Having hooked up with Alan and his wife, Barbara (named just like mine), at the Delphi Art Hotel, we had a few ouzos to cement the new trans-Atlantic acquaintanceship. Along about dinner time, Alan and Barbara wanted to take us to a place they’d tried a couple of days before.

So off we tramped into the gathering gloom of an Athens evening, first hiking the long way down from the hotel to Monastiraki Metro Station. Alan was certain the restaurant, whose name he couldn’t recall, was around the station to the east, so we tramped up and down a couple of hills.

By this time, the full moon rising over the Acropolis, with the Parthenon lit up so brightly, made it worth the walk. But as we circled around the streets behind the Tower of the Winds, it was clear that Alan didn't quite remember where the place was.

We stopped and consumed more ouzo to fortify us, then wobbled back down toward the Agora.

I said, “There’s a street we haven’t tried.” So we swerved left onto Adrianou: it runs just on the north side of the Agora itself…and after about 16 tourist restaurants that looked pretty much alike, Alan stopped and flung out his right hand: “That’s it!”

And it was.

The Attalos has excellent food, “contemporary and traditional Greece meets with the spirits near the monuments of the Ancient Agora and the Acropolis,” according to its website. I think the spirits come in bottles.

Barbara and I went back the next day for lunch and would have gone more often, except the place was closed by the time we got back on Sunday – New Year’s Eve. Too bad: the host promised they’d have stifado, the classic Greek stew made with rabbit.

So when you go to Athens, don’t mess about like the Barons and the Hills. The address is Andrianou 9, Thisio, in Monastiraki Center. Any taxi driver will get you there; better yet, take the Metro. You’ll get great food and drink and the prices are reasonable.

Or take the coward’s way out and walk around to the other side of the block. On Ermou Street, there’s an Applebee’s. Believe it.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Delphi Art

“A hotel isn't like a home, but it’s better than being a house guest.” I had to look this up – it’s by William Feather – because the Delphi Art Hotel in Athens deserves much more than a standard tourist’s website description.

Our stay here on St. Constantine Square was enjoyable and the hotel itself is a cozy example of an older hotel – a small neoclassic-style building that goes back to 1927. In time for the Olympics, it was renovated from top to bottom – and that included the management and staff. So it’s somewhat arty, comfortable and tremendously appealing. The people have a “strong service orientation.” Read this to mean we were never without a coffee or ouzo even while we played cribbage in the lobby on New Year’s Eve.

The tiny square, about the size of a house lot here in Houston, is named after Agiou Konstantinos – St. Constantine – because of the very large (and probably pretty ugly) church completed in 1896. But you can’t tell that the church is ugly on the outside because it’s draped in netting, currently undergoing a very long renovation itself. The inside is…glorious in the tradition of Greek Orthodox churches. This puts the hotel itself about four blocks west of Omonia Square, which gave us easy access to the excellent Metro station.

The Greek National Theatre across the street is also being rehabilitated. So the Delphi Art sits like a little jewel box surrounded by packing crates. The hotel’s appeal is inside.

Neat rooms, all modern conveniences and plenty of smiles make the place a treat…not quite home but warm-hearted and cheery. The current management team came with the hotel’s renovation and it’s plain where the smiles originate: Foni Bitra and her husband Christos have put their combined travel agency and professional experience into the place and made it a family operation.

Foni explained the efforts they’d put into making the Delphi Art a great place to stay – including wrestling with the city authorities to speed up refurbishment of the church, the theatre and the little square. To grow the clientele and keep it, they focus on one-to-one marketing, making each guest feel a bit more welcome and a bit more comfortable than many of the other couple of hundred four-stars available for the traveler in Athens. Check out the photos on the hotel’s website for a better look at the fixtures and fittings.

It’s no chain hotel, no costly pile in the full-dress European tradition (like, say, the five-star-plus Grande Bretagne up on Syntagma Square which, coincidentally, was German Army headquarters during the occupation of Greece in WWII.)

I’m embarrassed to say that on New Year’s Day, Christos’s mom, elegantly dressed for an upcoming lunch, emptied our ashtrays while we were talking to them. The family dropped by the hotel to break open a pomegranate in the corner of the lobby steps – a New Year’s Day good luck tradition.

William Feather was an American publisher and writer who died at the age of 92, primarily famous these days for being so damn quotable. He must have stayed in some good hotels because he got it right about the Delphi Art: it isn’t home, but we were treated much better than house-guests.

Best wishes – and many broken pomegranates to come.